A headline in today’s Wall Street Journal says, “CEOs Are Spending More Quality Time With Their Customers.” The column focuses on the bigger customers, like Apple, a big customer of Intel and various “Chinese artists, fashion and industrial designers, and photographers” who offered the CEO of Nike “insights” he wouldn’t have gleaned from reading about China. Sometimes a customer wants to hear directly from the people at the top and because that client means a lot to the bottom line the leader does the right thing and makes a visit or two.
But what about all the little people? I’m kidding of course. But truly what about the people who report up? All those customer service reps, for instance, who really are often the first (and usually only) point of contact? Should t hey spend more quality time with their customers? And is that already happening?
I think so, at least in some companies. I was surprised, for example, last week when after purchasing my Palm Treo I spent a tremendous amount of time on the phone with about five or six separate people happily (at least it seemed that way) helping me learn the basics. I’m one these people who gets a new electronic device and is convinced that I’m going to do something really wrong rendering it nonfunctioning. From putting too much pressure on the off button to not understanding how the machine actually gets email, I was pretty lost there. Sometimes my calls lasted longer than I thought possible. That is, I thought I was taking up way too much time. (I’m still not understanding things with this phone — as I’m writing my handbag is beeping and the Treo seems to have turned itself on . . . ). So as I talked with the customer service people I would occasionally say, “Are you going to get into trouble for being on the line for so long?” And each person responded the same way — by the way, this was Verizon Wireless. “No, it’s okay; they’d rather have you understand what’s going on rather than have you call back with the same problem.”
I thought that was brilliant. Sort of old-fashioned even. Also, with the exception of one rep they all had something a little different to teach me. I haven’t been to a tutorial yet (and I really mean that: the company offers free workshops for customers), but if you added up all the time I spent on the phone with these folks, I’d probably have a pretty good session under my belt.
It’s true that you may be wondering about the operating instructions for the Treo, but I’m going to tell you that it’s probably mostly me. A week later, I’m a lot smarter with this thing, though there’s something about Bluetooth technology that still eludes me. But I’m not that worried; I can always call that toll-free number and have a nice, long chat.